Foreign Secretary William Hague is an experienced politician.
One would assume that over the years he has paid attention to the political manifestos upon which he has been elected.
Given that he has been in shadow cabinets – and now the cabinet – for some time one might reasonably assume that he also pays attention to their discussions about legislation.
Given also that he has been in the House of Commons for a very long time you might imagine that he looks hard at the legislation for which he is voting. Therefore when – in May 2010 – he signed off the Coalition agreement which stated that, “We want to free NHS staff from political micromanagement” we can assume that he meant it.
Similarly in December – when in Cabinet he agreed to the publication of the Health and Social Care Bill, and in January – when he voted for its second reading, we can assume that he agreed with the removal of the Secretary of State from ultimate responsibility for the NHS.
All of which makes his recent activities a bit of a puzzle.
In the Northern Echo’s 28th May edition he seems to be trying to drag the Secretary of State back into micromanaging the NHS. He has apparently had four meetings with Andrew Lansley about the loss of services at one of the hospitals in his constituency – the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton. These meetings have been to ask the Secretary of State to stop the downgrading of maternity and paediatric services at the hospital.
There are several hundred hospitals around England. Most of them are undergoing wide ranging service changes. If the Secretary of State has four meetings about each of them it’s going to take micromanagement to a new level of intervention.
The Secretary of State is famously good with detail, which is just as well because he will need to know the ward rounds of each sister to be able to hold detailed discussions with his colleagues.
William Hague will of course also remember that he voted through legislation to empower the quango, Monitor. His Friarage Hospital is a part of South Tees Hospitals which is itself a Foundation Trust. He will of course know that at the last election, and in the Act, he voted for the separation of Foundation Trusts from the powers of the Secretary of State to be almost total.
Therefore the Foreign Secretary will know that if he wants to try and save services in the Friarage his first point of call will be the Independent Board of the hospital. The second will be Monitor.
It is because William Hague voted in the way he did that the Secretary of State has no role to play.
Their meetings therefore are a bit of a puzzle.
At the time of the second reading of the Bill in January 2011 a number of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs made the point that if the Bill had already been law their maternity services and A and E departments would not have closed. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now.
William Hague will need to be a bit more careful about the platforms upon which he stands for election – and the Acts for which he votes.